Shaolin Eight Section Brocade, or Bāduànjǐn (八段錦) is a form of Qìgōng (气功) and one of the earliest fitness exercises practiced by the monks of Shaolin Temple. According to legend, as early as the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD), the Shaolin monk Lingqiu practiced Baduanjin, living to be 109 years old. Baduanjin’s function is to relieve muscles and promote blood circulation, regulate Qi and blood and promote metabolism. Long-term training can strengthen the physique, improve the immune system and prolong life.
Directions for Practice
It is best to practice this Qigong in a quiet location with fresh air. Do not practice in strong winds, especially when you are sweating, as this will affect your breathing. Do not face the sun directly as you train, and avoid irritating your eyes with strong light. Similarly, do not practice during strong weather events such as thunderstorms, and do not practice when you are hungry or emotional, as these scenarios affect practitioners and damage the practice. When you are training, wear loose, comfortable clothes, and remove watches, glasses and jewellery. When you train, try to ensure there is a large open area in front of you; if indoors, do not have indoor objects or walls directly in front of you as you train.
Whilst training this Qigong, the basic breathing method is to protrude the lower abdomen when inhaling and to contract when exhaling. Place the tongue lightly on the roof of the mouth and breathe slowly and continuously through the nose, contracting and lifting the anal sphincter as you breathe in and relaxing and sinking as you breathe out.
For more details on this, feel free to check out this short video of Master Wang speaking about Baduanjin's breathing methods.
When you train, the movements should not be stiff, but rather should be relaxed, slow, stable and elastic, with the mind in harmony with the body’s movements. The movements of this Qigong are flexible and can be adjusted according to your needs; if you are struggling to hold a low stance for example, try it from a higher angle, or if you are struggling with the strength or endurance needed to repeat each movement many times, try repeating each movement just two or three times.
Place the hands in front of the lower Dāntián (丹田), an area located in front of the spine in your lower abdomen. Calm the mind and adjust your breathing, ensuring you have good posture.
This movement is commonly called “Two Hands Hold up the Heavens”, however its full name translates to “Holding the Heavens With Both Hands to Regulate the Triple Burner”. The Triple Burner, or Sānjiāo (三焦) is a concept in traditional Chinese medicine, referencing one of the six internal organs of the human body which is divided into three sections. "Upper Burner" refers to the heart and lungs, ”Middle Burner" refers to the spleen and stomach and ”Lower Burner" refers to liver and kidney, bladder, and large and small intestines. The idea is that the essence of the body's intake of food and drink passes through the "Triple Burner" from beginning to end.
When practicing the first section of Baduanjin, visualise the Triple Burner being unobstructed, and lift your intention from your lower abdomen to the base of your throat as you lift your hands and breathe in, before returning your intention to your lower abdomen when you lower your hands and breathe out. This movement regulates the Triple Burner by stretching the chest, abdomen, muscles, organs, bones and meridians associated with the Triple Burner, whilst also having a beneficial effect on the muscles and bones of the waist, back and arms.
This movement translates to “Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Eagle”. The emphasis during this movement should be on opening and expanding the chest as you pull your arms apart, with the thumb on your rear hand pressed onto the Shāng Yáng (商阳) point located 0.1 inches below the nail on the outside of the index finger. This movement stretches the arms and chest as well as benefiting the heart and lunch and strengthening the hips, legs and ribs.
Although the common name for this movement is “Separate Heaven and Earth”, the full name is “Regulate the Spleen and Stomach Through a Single Lift”. During this movement, stretch both flanks as you expand outwards, filling the lungs as you breathe in and emptying them as you breathe out. This posture regulate the liver, gallbladder, spleen and stomach.
This movement is usually called “Wise Owl Gazes Backwards”, however the full name is “Look Back From the Five Labours and Seven Injuries”. The “Five Labours” alternately refer to the strain of the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidney, and to the saying: “Looking for a long time damages the blood, lying for a long time hurts the Qi, sedentary sitting hurts the flesh, standing for a long time hurts the bones and walking for a long time hurts the tendons”. The “seven injuries” refers to the internal injuries caused by the seven emotions. These are happiness, anger, worry, thought, sadness, fear, and shock. The function of the internal organs and the emotions of the human body are closely linked; changes in the Qi and blood of the viscera can affect the emotions, therefore the correct Qigong training can have a positive impact on mood and mental wellbeing. This section of Baduanjin enhances and regulates the nervous system, promoting Qi and blood flow to various internal organs and therefore regulating the emotional state of the practitioner.
As you perform this movement, rotate the arm to stimulate the acupoints of the wrist, turn the neck vertebrae and stretch the shoulders whilst sinking your breath into the Dantian. This movement improves circulation to the head and has a positive effect on some physiological dysfunctions as well as improving the strength of the eye muscles.
This movement is known as “Shake the Head and Sway the Tail”. This movement is a whole-body exercise which in particular is beneficial for the heart. Focus your intention on the soles of your feet whilst stretching the muscles in your neck and back during this section.
Translated as “Two Hands Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist”, this movement massages the bladder meridian, which runs up and down the back of the body, opening up the Ren and Du channels. It also stretches the tissues of the waist, legs and lower abdomen whilst regulating the kidney, hence the name of the movement. Training this movement well not only helps to prevent and treat common waist and leg pain, but also enhances the body’s function through encouraging a healthy liver. However, patients with hypertension and arteriosclerosis should be careful not to drop their heads too low when practicing this exercise.
Known as “Clench the Fists and Glare Fiercely”, key to this section is the intention of the eyes in watching the movement of the fists. This intention with the eyes helps to unblock liver Qi and promotes good blood circulation. Meanwhile, twist the spine left and right as you punch, grasp firmly with your hands at the end of each punch and grip the ground with your toes.
The final section is usually called “Bouncing on the Toes”, and can also roughly be translated as “Behind the Back, Bouncing Seven Times All Illnesses Disappear”. During this section, you should pay special attention to relaxing the body, elongating your spine and coordinating your breath with the rising and falling and vibration of your body. Sink your toes into the ground and raise your intention to the Bǎi Huì (百会), the meridian point located at the top of your head. The slight vibrations that this movement causes have a positive settling effect on the body’s Qi, closing the eight sections of the Qigong set, whilst also strengthening the pelvic floor.
As you practice Baduanjin, breathe in and out smoothly, avoid tension and practice consistently according to your abilities. To progress your training of this Qigong to the fullest extent, it is strongly advisable to have a master to guide your actions and provide bespoke feedback; however, training using this video online is a good way to begin your training if training under a master is not possible in your circumstances.